Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Treasure Every Moment

This morning the DJ on the Christian radio station I was listening to was describing how he was feeling about his son's graduation from high school. He was reminding parents everywhere about how quickly time passes, and how your children grow so fast. How often we (I) forget to treasure every moment and to let go of some things in order to appreciate the people we love most.

Dharavi Slum in Mumbai - from Wikimedia Commons
To me, this includes my Compassion children. I get so busy during the week trying to do a billion other things that sometimes I forget to just be thankful for all that I have in my life...not things, but people. I'm so thankful for my sweet son, and all the joy he brings to my heart. I'm grateful to my beautiful Compassion children for making me a better person, one day at a time.

Last night I took some time to sit down with my special notebook that I keep full of my Compassion kids' photos and letters, and to reread the letters I've received so far. I was blessed again and again as I reread each letter and planned what to mail them this week.

Do you write to your sponsored children? Again and again Center directors and pastors, Compassion workers, and the children who have graduated from the program tell us how much it means to sponsored children to hear from their sponsors on a regular basis. And the blessings extend both ways--through the preparations of reading past letters, praying over your children, and writing to them you are developing relationships--between you and your Compassion children and between you and God.

Jesus' ministry was about relationships. He came to save the world, but while he was hear on earth he worked through relationships, one person at a time. He took the time to hold a hand, speak a kind word (or sometimes a stern word), to teach, to laugh, and to love. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, that is our ministry, as well. These are treasures stored up in heaven. We have this moment only once.

If you haven't written your child in a while, please take a few minutes today and do so. You can use Compassion's online writing tool or you can download one of my free sponsor writing packets. Either way, it's easy--all it takes is a few minutes.

If you haven't sponsored a child yet, what are you waiting for? A sweet little face out there is waiting for your prayers, your love, your encouragement. Can you be the hands and feet of Christ to that child? Poverty stinks, but YOU can change the story. Think you can't afford it? Check out this awesome post on Red Letter Christians and think twice: http://www.redletterchristians.org/spoiled-witches-puerile-vanity-and-compassion-international/

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nine Ways to Explore Your Sponsored Child's World Without Leaving Home

On the Our Compassion sponsor site I've seen wonder how to relate to their sponsored kids. It's true, we are insulated within our 21st-century first-world lifestyles, now. It wasn't so long ago, however, that our grandparents (or even parents!) were walking to and from the well to draw water, or were heating water over a wood stove for a bath, or were washing clothes in the river or going hungry because there were too many mouths to feed and drought killed the first harvest. The days of one-room schoolhouses with no heat or air aren't that far behind us. Grueling chores, farm work, carting produce to market, kids dropping out of school to support the family--that was the norm in rural American life not all that long ago. How quickly we forget!

I've found a few ways to feel more connected to my sponsored kids, and I wanted to share them here. I hope you'll use those you find intriguing to help forge a stronger connection with your sponsored kids. And, if you have the chance, be sure to sit down with the elderly members of your family and ask them what life was like when they were kids...chances are, you'll notice some similarities between their lives and those of the children you touch through your loving sponsorship.

1)  Google Earth - I love Google Earth. If you haven't ever played with it, it's a free download you can install on your computer that allows you to see satellite images on a round globe. You simply type in a location and hit "search" and the program will zoom in on your chosen location. I like to turn on the "photo" feature (on the left-hand sidebar), and find the town or city where my child lives. I explore the town through the photo feature, often looking at the location of the center they attend (you can find the location of your child's center on the OurCompassion website). It's a bit like visiting your child without the cost of a plane ticket! I have learned alot about the types of housing, the communities, the traffic, the vegetation, and the road systems of the kids we sponsor through my Google Earth "travels." In some areas, you can even fly over the city in 3D, with a "tour guide" to point out famous landmarks!

2) Read a Book - I adore the library. Where else can you walk in a room, pick out something you want, and walk out with it without paying a dime???  One of the best ways to understand our sponsored child's community, culture, and situation is to read. I love to read, so I devour books about India, Africa, and Central America at my house, as well as books about poverty, in general. There are many great books about poverty, about the horrible trafficking happening world-wide...and I encourage you to read those...but also take the time to read some less depressing information about the culture your child lives in. Travel guides are GREAT ways to explore the heritage sites in your child's country. If you have children, use these travel guides to make posters at home, printing photos from the internet, as though you've visited the country. Make a scrapbook of your "travels"! Lonely Planet guide to Bogota, Colombia: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/bogota

3) Cook a Meal - Food transcends language. You can relate to your child by learning about the foods they love and cooking those foods at home for your family. Try something new! Ask your child what their favorite food or snack is, and try to make it at your home....then tell your sponsored child what you thought about it! Take pictures of you trying it out! Your sponsored child will probably think it's funny that you tried their favorite meal. Recipes from Guatemala, where one of my sponsored children lives: http://www.food.com/recipes/guatemalan
Fried Plantains--common to Central America (and SO yummy)

4) Subscribe to the Compassion Explorer Magazine. I love this magazine. It is geared towards kids in elementary school, but I'm not ashamed to say that I like to read it just as much as kids that age do! It's FREE and each issue contains crafts, stories from the kids in various countries that are sponsored through Compassion, recipes, and other ideas for great ways to connect with your sponsored kids and kids of all ages!

5) Play a game. Does your sponsored child have a favorite game or hobby? Give it a try! This is especially great if you have kids or if you are college/high-school age. Drop the pretenses and get a group together to try a traditional Indian past time, or play soccer using a ball made from rags or plastic bags tied together with twine. Take photos and send them to your sponsored child! Some examples from India: http://www.ehow.com/list_6109478_india-games-kids.html

6) Listen to Music. Pandora is a great, free way to explore music from other cultures. Download Pandora to your computer or phone and type in your child's country. Music, like food, transcends language and speaks to the heart. Use that as a jumping off point to ask your sponsored child about their musical interests, and to share yours.

7) Visit the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website. This somewhat well-hidden website is a treasure-trove of information about the countries Compassion works in. The site contains statistics about poverty and hunger, information about the natural resources of countries, rural and social development, and photos and other information, as well as publications. For example, here is a link to the FAO interactive Hunger Map: http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/.  Here is a link to the FAO country page for Togo, one of the African countries I sponsor in: http://www.fao.org/countryprofiles/index/en/?iso3=TGO, which contains not only statistics but also news feeds with information about events in the country.

8) Search the Library of Congress website. Another great resource for free information, free videos, free movies, photos, and much more!  Here is a link to the LOC World History & Cultures page: http://www.loc.gov/topics/worldhistory.php

9) Watch a travel documentary or youtube video! Travel documentaries abound, and there are even clips on youtube from many countries...Instead of the latest Dancing with the Stars, sit down to a travel documentary of your child's country! What a great way to visit without leaving your living room! Free online travel documentaries: http://documentarystorm.com/category/culture/travel/; Free Documentary on PBS about how our American cotton subsidies contribute to poverty in Burkina Faso, a Compassion country: http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/310/

I hope these have given you some thoughts about interesting and unusual ways to be more in tune with your sponsored children and their cultures and lives!

Prayers for Oklahoma

Early this week a massive tornado devastated Moore, Oklahoma. My prayers and heartache are with those who suffered great loss, whether through the loss of their homes or the loss of a loved one. Please remember those families as you go about your daily routine this week. It's a reminder that life can change at a moment's notice for any of us, so live in this moment as fully and completely as possible.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Six Thousand Prayers

Six thousand days. That's roughly how many days a mother has with a child if she can keep watch over them a full 18 years. Six thousand days...sounds like a lot but what a precious short time to share love, impart self worth, instill faith and compassion, joy and memories. Six thousand days full or prayers and kisses, hugs and whispers, hopes and dreams.

What happens to the children without a parent, or a parent who leaves or dies too soon, or a parent who just doesn't care? Six thousand days of loneliness. Six thousand empty nights, waiting for a word of hope. Six thousand prayers for someone to love them, give them encouragement. Six thousand prayers for someone like me or you to reach out and share out richly blessed lives.

Please sponsor a child today. There are six thousand reasons you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Compassion in Thailand

Temple in Chiang Mai
Last week I had the honor of traveling to Thailand for work. I posted previously about the sponsor gifts I was able to carry with me, and how touched I was by all of the love these wonderful sponsors were sending their children.
Chiang Mai

Learning Traditional Thai dance
Thai Soap Flower (carved by hand out of soap!
Thailand is an amazing country. The people are sweet and gracious, and the countryside is lovely. My meetings were in Chiang Mai, the northern capitol city that has become a major tourist destination in the country, and one that native Thais are quite proud of (and rightly so).

Hmong woman with child
Sunday Market
One of the most amazing experiences in the city of Chiang Mai, to me, was the street market. Every night there are night markets in the city with a variety of artisans creating and selling goods right in front of visitors; food vendors selling items from yummy, amazing banana waffles to somewhat less enticing insects and unusual fruits; small shop owners hocking souvenir items; and Hmong women toting children on their backs and baskets on their chests selling all manner of jewelry and ubiquitous wooden toy frogs.

(Not so) Yummy
In addition to the night markets, there is a weekend market on Sunday that we were able to squeeze in (we were a bit jet lagged, so we more or less staggered through the Sunday market). There we saw more beautiful handwoven purses and silks, artwork, and amazingly intricate soap carvings. At one point in the Sunday market a man came over an intercom and began what sounded like a political speech. When his speech concluded, he announced in English "please stand for the national anthem" and immediately all movement on the street stopped....entirely. It was as though Times Square ceased all activity in one moment. All people, tourist and native, stood completely still.  I can't describe the eeriness and yet powerfulness of the complete silence and stillness in that moment while the anthem was sung....and then as soon as it began it stopped and the bustle was immediate.

Riding an Elephant
My new Friend
On the third day of the conference meeting we had field trips related to forest industry in Thailand. In the country, elephants were used historically for logging purposes. Thus, elephants are a massive part of Thai forest industry history. Now there is a domestic population of elephants that seek work elsewhere, as work is necessary to feed these intelligent giants. The result is a booming tourist industry revolving around elephant camps. We visited the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, which is devoted to training mahouts to treat elephants in their care humanely, and which provides free hospital services to elephants who are injured or sick. Their goal is the conservation of the domestic elephants in Thailand.
Bath Time!

As part of the field trip I was honored to participate in the mahout training show, and learned how to mount and dismount from the elephant, how to ask the animal to pick up an object I had dropped, and other training commands. We also watched the animals demonstrate logging techniques, and we were able to watch them bathe (they absolutely loved the water!). I also helped make some elephant dung paper--a really interesting process--and we learned how elephant dung can be converted into biogas for fuel.

Compassion Thailand Mailroom
Compassion Thailand Representative
Finally, and perhaps the pinnacle of my visit outside of the work we completed while we were there, was my visit to the Compassion Thailand office. The office is a 2-story, fairly modern building in Chiang Mai. It seems to be in an area where many other humanitarian organizations are located. It's a modest office, with a handful of cute little animal statues out front. I was met by a lovely, friendly staff member who was happy to explain the inner workings of their office. I was able to see the mailroom, which was a real eye-opener for me. I was amazed to see the pile of letters waiting to be translated. I learned that they deliver from the main office to the local offices once monthly, around the 20th of each month. When letters arrive at the main office they are sent out in small groups to the translators, who have about 7 days to complete translation and return the letters. Then the letters are placed into bins and when it is time to deliver the letters they all go into gigantic manilla envelopes for deliveries. Sponsor gifts like those I dropped off are delivered separately, as soon as can be arranged.

Compassion Thailand
Compassion Entrance
Thailand was beautiful and amazing, but it does have a dark side. One evening coming back to the hotel from dinner we walked down a road we were unfamiliar with. Signs of the infamous sex trade in Asia were ever-present, and left me feeling very depressed. In the airplane from Bangkok I read the book "Only 13," a poorly written but nonetheless heartbreaking account of a girl introduced into the sex tourism industry in Thailand at age 13, and a cataloging of the culture that lead her to that point and that ended in the development of severe mental disorders. Nothing could have concreted my opinion that Compassion and other aid organizations are desperately needed in Asia more than that happenstance walk through the red-light district.

I ask that you please pray for the poor in Thailand, and particularly the poor women and children who are exploited in southeast Asia. Shame on the tourists (and locals) who prey on these women.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Outpourings of Love in Ziplock Baggies

My mailbox has been overflowing. Not with letters from my Compassion children, but with gifts of love from sponsors throughout the US, Canada, and Europe sending small bits of hope to their children halfway around the world with me via my luggage as I prepare to travel to Thailand in a few days.

With each arrival, it has been an honor to check off the name of the sponsor sending the gift and open the package to see the lovingly selected, packaged, and labeled gifts to their child. Each package has a distinct fragrance...one floral, one musty, one sweet...carrying the heart and flavor of the region and home from which it traveled. As I open each one I savor the sweet letters the sponsors have included for me, unnecessary but appreciated thank-yous, and much appreciated prayers, when it's really me who should be thanking them for the opportunity to witness such compassion. I smile at the items that sponsors have carefully chosen for their kids, each sponsor knowing the individual desires of their children from countless letters and prayers, trying hard to pack freighter-truck sized love into quart-size ziplock baggies.

Stuffed animals, bracelets, candy, cars, balls...all small items with a big message--"You are important. You are loved by me and by Christ. You matter. You can make a difference."

I have had several sponsors tell me that they appreciate that I am willing to carry these gifts to a country where I don't sponsor, on a trip that is business not pleasure, and when I will have very little free time. Oh, but what I want each of them to understand is that the blessing has ALREADY been far sweeter than the small amount of space dedicated in my luggage, than the few minutes it will take to travel the short distance from my hotel to the country office.

This outpouring of love in ziplock baggies has reminded me once again of the great love fostered by Compassion International, and of the great miracles God has worked to place me within almost-walking distance of the country office during this unrelated trip.

My trip to the Compassion office will be a short one--just long enough to drop off the packages--but I know that the impact these sponsors have had on me and on the children to whom these items are destined to reach will be eternal.